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Embrace Your Digital Shadow

In today’s digital age, the lines between perception and reality have become blurred.

Every day and with every interaction, we are constantly affecting how others perceive us; this has been true for generations. However, for retailers today, what’s changed is the tremendous — and wildly convenient — power other people have in influencing and shaping public opinion about you and your business.

Gone are the days when businesses solely managed their reputations by traditional marketing and PR. With the rise of social media and online review sites, our interactions have been forever magnified and transformed. The ease at which consumers can publically share their positive and negative comments has put your customer in charge of shaping your company’s reputation.  

Online reviews about your business live on sites dedicated to just that, like Yelp and Angie’s List. What’s more, consumer reviews are now being collected and showcased on the mega sites that have become a daily part of our lives (think Google and Facebook).

In his book, “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business,” bestselling author Erik Qualman discusses how word of mouth has become world of mouth.   

Stopping people from talking about your business online is impossible. Choosing to abstain — going off the Internet grid, so to speak — is not a viable option as there will still be other people talking about you and your business online.

Qualman, a foremost expert on the topic, calls this our “digital shadow.” But it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Embracing people talking about your business online is ripe with powerful and positive possibilities. And having a good online reputation management solution in place puts you back in control of not only your reputation, but in building and protecting a legacy that works overtime to expand your success.

And oh what a powerful tool a good reputation management solution can be! Research by BrightLocal, which specializes in helping local businesses grow through digital solutions, found that when deciding which local business to shop with, consumers care more about reviews than price. And it turns out consumers don’t need to see a flawless five-star record to want to do business with you; they quickly forgive negative reviews when businesses take the time to thoughtfully (and publically) respond.

There’s more good news: A lot of smart and innovative professionals are researching and sharing what they’re learning about reputation management, the hottest digital topic this year. If you’re interested in taking control of your online reputation and turning it into a powerful tool that works 24/7 to increase your business, here are four best practices that comprise the building blocks of a robust reputation management strategy:      

Monitor: There are dozens of sites on which reviews can live, but they won’t all apply to your retail business. Those that make the cut should be monitored, preferably by software that can easily do so 24/7 and automatically alert you of new activity so new reviews don’t go unnoticed. You should claim your business on these sites and keep your sign-in information readily available so you can keep your business’s basic information up to date.

Respond: The research is overwhelming! If you want to positively shape your reputation, your business has to be an active participant in the process. That means responding to people who post about your business in a timely manner. Say “Thank you” when they say something nice. Try to make it right when they report a bad experience. Show you are a business that cares. For more information on the power of response, and best practices on how to do so, we recommend checking out digital marketing expert and bestselling author Jay Baer’s new book, “Hug Your Haters.”

Solicit: Happy customers are much less likely to leave reviews than disgruntled ones. If you don’t have a systematic way to invite your happy customers to leave a review, you’re leaving your digital shadow up to odds that aren’t in your favor! Smart reputation management software can solicit your customers to provide feedback, and automatically direct them to more private channels if they’re less-than-satisfied and more public ones if they’re happy as a clam.

Showcase: When you get a glowing five-star review, don’t hide it — share it! Show relevant and positive reviews on your website. Post them to your Facebook page. Shine a bright light on the gift you’ve been given. Your customer just picked up a microphone to tell you how awesome you are, and your job is to plug it into a loudspeaker!

Reputation management has incredible potential to earn exponential business for you — and it’s possible to execute if you care enough about your customers and your legacy to make it a priority.

The principles that govern it are simple: be approachable, responsive, thoughtful and thankful. I bet your mother taught you all these things already. All you need are some best practices and good software tools to help you apply them in this new digital age and harness the power of positivity to rise above the competition.

Jennie Gilbert is the COO of Retailer Web Services, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based digital services provider whose mission is to help independent retailers realize their dreams through the promise of technology.